The Ethiopian Land Giveaway – OpEd
What’s yours is mine what’s mine’s my own.
It is a colonial phenomenon, appropriate land for the needs of the colonists and to hell with those living upon the land, indigenous and at home. Might is right, military or indeed economic. The power of the dollar rules supreme in a world built upon the acquisition of the material, the perpetuation of desire and the entrapment of the human spirit.
Africa has for long been the object of western domination, control and usury, under the British, French, and Portuguese of old. Now the ‘new rulers of the World’ large corporations from America, China, Japan, Middle Eastern States, India and Europe, are engaged in extensive land acquisitions in developing countries. The vast majority of available land is in Sub-Saharan Africa where, according to The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues report, ‘The Growing demand for Land, Risks and Opportunities for Smallholder Farmers’ “80 per cent (of worldwide land) –about 2 billion hectares that is potentially available for expanded rain-fed crop production” is thought to be. Huge industrial agricultural centres are being created, off shore farms, producing crops for the investors home market. Indigenous people, subsistence farmers and pastoralists are forced off the land, the natural environment is levelled, purging the land of wildlife and destroying small rural communities, that have lived, worked and cared for the land for centuries. The numbers of people potentially affected by the land grab and its impact on the environment is staggering. The UN in it’s report states “By 2020, an estimated 135 million people may be driven from their land as a result of soil degradation, with 60 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone.”
This contemporary ‘Land Grab’ has come about as a result of food shortages, the financial meltdown in 2008 and in light of the United Nations world population forecast of 9.2 billion people by 2050, and three main resulting pressures. 1. Food insecure nations – particularly Middle Eastern and Asian countries, seeking to stabilise their food supply. 2. To meet the growing worldwide demand for agro-fuels and thirdly, by the rise in investment in land and soft commodities, such as coffee, cocoa, sugar, corn, wheat, soya and fruit. Often investors are simply speculators seeking to make a fast or indeed slow buck, by ‘Land Banking’, sitting on the asset waiting and watching for the price to inflate, then selling, the Oakland Institute in its report ‘The Great land Grab’ found “along with hedge funds and speculators, some public universities and pension funds are among those in on the land rush, eyeing returns of 20 to as much as 40%”. Land not as home, land as a chip, to be thrown upon the international gambling table of commercialisation.
Chopping trees cutting Costs
As well we know everything and indeed everyone ‘has its price’. Even the people and land of a country, sold into destitution by governments motivated by distorted notions of development, where people, traditional lifestyles and the environment come a distant second to roads, industrialisation and the raping of the land. People too poor to hold on to their dignity, too weak in a world built and run on power and might, to protest and demand justice for themselves and their families and rounded, responsible husbandry for the environment. And the price of land, well as one would expect bargain basement, with 99 year leases the norm and various government incentive packages. In some cases the land is literally being given away, as the Oakland Institute (OI) states in its report, “In Mali one investment group was able to secure 1000,000 hectares (ha) of fertile land for a 50 year term for free. Elsewhere “$2.00 a hectare (roughly equal to two Olympic size athletic grounds) is the going rate.” According to The Guardian (21/3/2011) “The lowest prices are in Africa, where, says the World Bank, at least 35 million hectares of land has been bought or leased. Other groups, including, Friends of the Earth say the figure is higher.”
Ethiopia. For sale
The Ethiopian government, through the Agricultural Investment Support Directorate is at the forefront of this African Land Sale. Crops familiar to the area are often grown, such as maize, sesame, sorghum, in addition to wheat and rice. All let us state clearly, for export to Saudi Arabia, India, China etc, to be sold within the home market, benefitting the people of Ethiopia not.
The Oakland Institute research “shows that at least 3,619,509ha of land (an area just smaller than Belgium) have been transferred to investors, although the actual number may be higher.” The government claims that the land available for lease is unused and surplus, this is disingenuous nonsense. Large areas of land are in fact already cultivated by smallholders subsistence farmers and pastoralists using land for grazing, all of which are un-ceremonially evicted. Villages are destroyed and indigenous people expelled from their homeland and forced into large scale villagization programmes. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report ‘Waiting Here For Death’ states, “The Ethiopian federal government’s current villagization program is occurring in four regions—Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Somali, and Afar. This involves the resettlement of approximately 1.5 million people throughout the lowland areas of the country—500,000 in Somali region, 500,000 in Afar region, 225,000 in Benishangul-Gumuz and 225,000 in Gambella.” Imposed movement then, often applied with force, in order to provide pristine land, free of any inconveniences to the corporate allies.
Level growing field
There are five areas of prime, fertile land up for grabs. Gambella is the largest where unbelievably a third of the region (around 800,000 hectares) is available. Indian corporations have already snapped up 352,000 hectares (ha) and around 900 foreign investors have so far taken advantage of this giveaway. Afar, The Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region, where 200,000 hectares has been leased or sold, Oromia, where three Indian companies have leased a total of 138,000 ha and Amhara, make up the reduced to clear rail.
With the land grab crucially goes water – and the appropriation of this vital resource, both surface and ground water. Investors are allowed to do what they will with the land they lease, this includes diverting rivers, digging canals from existing water sources, building dams and drilling bore holes. The Oakland Institute in its report ‘Land Investment in Ethiopia quotes Saudi Star stating “that water will be their biggest issue, and numerous plans are being established (including the construction of 30 km of cement-lined canals and another dam on the Alwero River).” There are no controls imposed on foreign corporations whatsoever and no payment structure for ‘appropriating’ water is in place. These politically favoured investors are being offered carte blanche. Water supplies in Ethiopia are poor, even in the capital, where irregular mains flow is common in many neighbourhoods. There is water galore 90% of the Nile e.g. flows through Ethiopia, distribution though is inconsistent, maintained to be so some say, the people drained, exhausted and kept firmly in their place.
In Gambella the government in 2011 offered huge areas of land to Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global for the equivalent of $1.16 per hectare, to lease more than 2,500 sq. km (1,000 sq. miles) of virgin, fertile land for more than 50 years. This cost compared to an average rate of $340 per ha in the Punjab district of India, no wonder then that the CEO of Karuturi described “the incentives available to the floriculture industry in Ethiopia as “mouthwatering,” including low air freights on the state-owned Ethiopian airlines, tax holidays, hassle-free entry into the industry at very low lease rates, tax holidays, and lack of duties,” reports Oakland in its Ethiopia report. Up to 60,000 workers will be employed by Karuturi, who are paying local people less than $1 a day, which is well below the level of extreme poverty set by the World bank. The company will cultivate according to The Guardian 21st March 2011 “20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton… “We could feed a nation here”, says Karmjeet Sekhon, Karuturi project manager. Land and people for a few rupees, cushioned by a cocktail of sweeteners offered by the Ethiopian government, allowing the decimation of the environment and the destruction of lifestyles – generations old. And in a hurry, The Guardian found “the [land] concessions are being worked [by Karuturi] at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season. Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region’s rich wildlife.”
Unstable supply of staples
Around five million people in Ethiopia rely on food aid and live with constant food insecurity that will only increase under the land grab bonanza. According to the Oakland Institutes report “commercial investment will increase rates of food insecurity in the vicinity of the land investments” and Open Democracy reports an interview with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, for the Financial Times (7 August 2008), in which he ‘predicted that “large-scale farming could bring some employment, but “not much”. It would not solve the problem of food insecurity.” Intensifying food insecurity is the transfer of vast areas of land used for the cultivation of traditional staples such as Teff to other crops. This is largely responsible for costs of Teff (used to make injera – the daily bread) quadrupling in the last four years. The Guardian (Monday 23 April 2012) reports Friends of the Earth International “The result (of land sell offs) has often been … people forced off land they have traditionally farmed for generations, more rural poverty and greater risk of food shortages” Food security will be realised when local smallholders are encouraged to farm their land, given financial support, machinery and the needed technology, as Oxfam in its report ‘Land Power Rights’ points out, “Small-scale producers, particularly women, can indeed play a crucial role in poverty reduction and food security. But to do so, they need investment in infrastructure, markets, processing, storage, extension, and research.”
Keep development small, for, of, and close to the people in need, and see them flourish.
Land rights, human cost, environmental damage
The land rights of the indigenous people of Ethiopia are, as one would expect somewhat ambiguous. As a legacy of the socialist dictatorship of the 1960s and ‘70s, the government technically owns all land. However there is protection in law for indigenous people. The Ethiopian constitution Article 40, 3 states “Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange. And 4) “Ethiopian peasants have right to obtain land without payment and the protection against eviction from their possession.” And in regard to pastoralists affected by the land sell off, paragraph 5) “Ethiopian pastoralists have the right to free land for grazing and cultivation as well as the right not to be displaced from their own lands.”
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Ethiopia signed in 2007, making it a legally binding document, states in Article 26/1. “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources, which they have traditionally owned, occupied or other- wise used or acquired.” And paragraph 2.”Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.” The declaration also outlines compensation measures for landowners. Article 28/1. “Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.” Paragraph 2. “Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources 10equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.”
The law it would appear is clear, implementation and respect for its content is required, and should be demanded of the ruling EPRDF by the donor countries to Ethiopia.
Land and People
People are not being consulted or democratically included in the decisions to transform their homeland. This contravenes the Ethiopian constitution, that states in Article 92/3. “People have the right to full consultation and to the expression of views in the planning and implementations of environmental policies and projects that affect them directly”. Hollow words to those being evicted from their land, like Omot Ochan a villager, from the Anuak tribe whose family has lived in the forest near the Baro river in Gambella for ten generations. Speaking to The Observer Sunday 20 May 2012, he “insisted Saudi Star had no right to be in his forest. The company had not even told the villagers that it was going to dig a canal across their land. “Nobody came to tell us what was happening.” He goes on to say “This land belonged to our father. All round here is ours. For two days’ walk.” Well that was the case until the Government in their infallible wisdom leased some 10,000ha to their friend, the Ethiopian born Saudi Arabian oil multi millionaire, Sheik Al Moudi (In 2011, Fortune magazine put his wealth at more than $12bn) to grow rice for his Saudi Star Company. Omot continued, “two years ago, the company began chopping down the forest and the bees went away. The bees need thick forest. We used to sell honey. We used to hunt with dogs too. But after the farm came, the animals here disappeared. Now we only have fish to sell.” And with the company draining the wetlands, the fish will probably be gone soon, too. Sheik Al Moudi plans to export over a million tonnes of rice a year to Saudi Arabia. To ease relations with the Meles regime and as The Observer states “to smooth the wheels of commerce, Amoudi has recruited one of Zenawi’s former ministers, Haile Assegdie, as chief executive of Saudi Star.”
Traditional land rights for people who have lived on the land in Gamabella and elsewhere for centuries are being ignored and in a country where all manner of human rights are routinely violated, legally binding compensations are not being paid.
Government drafted lease agreements with investors state the Meles regime will hand over the land free of any ‘encumbrances’ – people and property that means, anyone living or using the land to graze their livestock or pastoralists moving through. The Independent 18th January 2012 reports “Ethiopia is forcing tens of thousands of people off their land so it can lease it to foreign investors, leaving former landowners destitute and in some cases starving.” The Government says any movement is voluntary and not enforced, a clear distortion of the facts. HRW in their report confirms the government’s criminality “mass displacement to make way for commercial agriculture in the absence of a proper legal process contravenes Ethiopia’s constitution and violates the rights of indigenous peoples under international law.”
A price worth paying it would seem, to the Ethiopian government and those multi nationals appropriating the land, seeing a market and capitalizing on the countries need for dollars. Desperate in a world propelled by growth to maximize the value of every so called asset, even if it means prostituting the land, sacrificing the native people and destroying the natural environment.
19 thoughts on “The Ethiopian Land Giveaway – OpEd”
THANK YOU FOR BRINGING UP THE TRUTH TO THE WORLD…I AM FROM ETHIOPIA…FOOD IS VERY EXPENSIVE….WE CANT FEED OUR SELVES…THE GOVERNMENT COULD CULTIVATE THE LAND AND FEED HIS OWN PEOPLE..BUT THE REGIM DONT WANT DO THAT AND INSTEAD BEG FOOD FOR US AND SELL OUR LAND TO BILLIONERS….WE ONLY PRAY FOR GOOD DAY TO COME WE ARE UNDER COLONIZATION OF 21 CENTURY
Just hush up. This is a completely non of your business. We know what is good for the people. You know not nothing about the actual problem on the ground. Moreover, your story is full of hyperbolic, sensational statements. You are not the first to try to smear the developmental government Ethiopia has for the first time in thousands of years. We do not need your governments alms. We are determined to be self-reliant. So leave us alone, dude.
Sorry for Ethiopians, poor administration and lauck of proper governance is sending them to the graves empty stomack!!!The country which should have been the bread basket of Africa, but not let it cannot feed its people let alone the whole of Africa. Very sorry indeed.The removal of the dictator and good governance are the two ways to end Ethiopians suffering. God bless Ethiopia.
Don’t be swayed by articles like this. Do you own research. The author is just another participant in a concerted effort to undermine economic progress in Ethiopia, as well as all of Africa. Where were articles like this before Ethiopia’s economy was booming? Agitators like Mr. Peebles know that the more self-reliant developing nations become, the less relevant their so-called humanitarian organizations will be and the less they will able to push for an Green Utopia in the African continent. These groups are lobbyists who receive millions, if not billions of dollars in funding. They cry fowl of so-called “land-grabs” and yet try to dictate to sovereign nations when or where they can build something to protect some fragile ecosystem or dying antiquated way of life. Acts of eminent domain happen all the time in the West and there is ne’er a protest from these humanitarians. In fact, the EPA in the United States has a long history of “land-grabbing”. For all the good that charities and humanitarian organizations do provide, they don’t present long-term solutions to ending or at least dramatically reducing poverty. It has become abundantly clear, with countries like China, India, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey strengthening business partnerships with poor African countries, that the Western Socialist way of tackling poverty, that is, by sending endless streams of foreign aid, doesn’t work. In fact, that only helps to sustain corrupt governments, because they are essentially receiving free money. Countries like Ethiopia need to be treated as adults and not helpless children to stroke some Euro-centric elitist ego. Sadly, the latter is the mindset of people like Graham Peebles. They actually think they are protesting Ethiopia’s progress – for the good of Ethiopians. But that reminds me of something C.S. Lewis said, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of it’s victims may be the most oppressive”. You, Mr. Peebles, and other Socialists are the worst kind of tyrants. You don’t realize the racism – yes, racism – you are promoting, because you see it as compassion.
Great Article, well done!
Just a question to Mr Peebles then – what do you suggest Ethiopians do then ? Whether one likes it or not Ethiopia has to industrialize to achieve its huge untapped potential. Also in the process bring 29 million of it Citizens out of extreme poverty.
Your article is just a cut and paste job. Like so many written by so called “western NGO organizations”. Sure there will be some downsides to this policy but it it brings more good it will have been worth it.
Funny how the developed world preaches to countries like Ethiopia. While the real issue of the 21st century is climate change brought about by excess pollution from industrialized nations.
How about writing about this real topic and putting pressures on western governments to cut down their emissions. Ethiopia leasing a tiny portion of its land should be the least of your concerns in my opinion.
After reading you comment, I had to respond as a indigenous tribal member from the U.S. as i seems apparent that you are a big supporter of continually development and a supporter of the EPA’s “Land grabbing” tactics. It’s people like you as to why we are having such a food shortage. The importance of the land, the water, and the air. By killing those things, you are killing yourself. One of the reason’s why people in indigenous are forced into poverty is because their government is forcing it upon their people by keeping them suppressed. Continually keeping them from attempting their own development so the government don’t miss out on any possible funding they can TAKE from that individual. And you comment, “Acts of eminent domain happen all the time in the West and there is ne’er (Never) a protest from these humanitarians. In fact, the EPA in the United States has a long history of “land-grabbing,” You need to pay more attention to international news because the indigenous people are still today fighting for their land, air and water rights here in the U.S. so we can continue to sustain our traditional and cultural way of life provided by this beautiful place we call our mother earth. Because today, they government believes they can continue to take our land. But they didn’t realize the chiefs at that time were smarter then they thought and by signing treaties with the government then, IS THE ONLY THING protecting our people from a government take over today. However, this is a new day, and we are no longer idling by quietly, because again as they kill these things, they are killing a people. But do you think they care. Absolutely not, as long as they get paid. The Black hills is a prime example…. here is some real history for you! “Native Americans have a long history in the Black Hills. After conquering the Cheyenne in 1776, the Lakota took over the territory of the Black Hills, which became central to their culture. In 1868, the U.S. government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. However, when European Americans discovered gold there in 1874, as a result of George Armstrong Custer’s Black Hills Expedition, erstwhile miners swept into the area in a gold rush. The US government re-assigned the Lakota, against their wishes, to other reservations in western South Dakota. Unlike most of South Dakota, the Black Hills were settled by European Americans primarily from population centers to the west and south of the region, as miners flocked there from earlier gold boom locations in Colorado and Montana.” They still stand by that treaty that was signed and never, to this day, gave up their rights to the sacred hills! Lastly, here is even a bigger news flash for you, why do you think they are coming for indigenous people land today, “in force.” Because we took care of our natural resources and still survive off our land as we as indigenous people care more about the resources then we do about the mighty dollar. And now that they have killed and contaminated everything around them, they are reverting back to the indigenous people to keep THIER POCKETS FAT!!! In order to survive, you have to be compassionate, not only for a people, but for a land the people survive off today, tomorrow and far into the future.
Thanks Graham for the piece. I don’t agree with any who argue only Ethiopians should discuss about Ethiopian issues. These same people can not stop themselves from talking about Europeans or other nations! Even worse, they don’t seem to defend the fact that the ruling party in Ethiopia is only in power because of the help it receives from foreigners! Meles Zenawi habitually [is an addict] begs for food and money.
Seyum, who I met in an earlier post, is back at it again. Defending the ruling party while sounding impartial. Not democracy or justice or the equality of all humans everywhere! Nothing personal; just pointing out a glaring fact and a pattern!
Me and you seem to catch up on different forums Alem. Old habits from you die hard though, you persist in seeing complex issues in black and white only. Read my response to the article carefully.
Ethiopia will suffer in a very big way from climate change than leased land. This is simple fact. Now the sooner something is done about that the better.
I can clearly see the dislike you have for the current regime. You are entitled to that. By focusing so narrowly i hope you do not miss the big picture and issues. Some links for your info below.
You are at it again changing the topic, boxing any who don’t agree with your views as having a “dislike for the current regime”, as having “old habits”, as seeing “complex issues in black and white.” You determined all these without adequate facts and taking yourself as the standard. You pit land-lease against climate change. You quote World Bank material never considering I could direct you to World Bank literature to show you the tentativeness of your position.
One does not have to be against or for a group necessarily. I hope you will agree that there is nothing narrower than depriving a people the right to vote in and vote out whomever they wish.
great article, the facts are clear the Ethiopian government/EPRDF does not care about it’s people,now finally non Ethiopians are realizing this truth.thank you MR Graham.
I can see the problematic aspects of this land policy. Yet I am inclined to quote PM Zenawi in his response in parliamnet to crticism from the lone opposition MP: “so what?”. Fair enough, land grabing, huge hydropower dam etc. have certain bad consequences. We nevertheless also hear complaints from journalists and opposition factions about food insecurity, poverty, unemployment, aid dependence, lack of infrastructure, and lack of access to education and health services. Please do the equation for me: how in the world are we to finance all of this? where is the income to build hospitals and schools for 80 mil people going to come from?
Its not a particularly difficult mathematical challenge: we have huge needs and very few resources and sources of income i.e. we need to use whatever we have to the maximum to survive.
Tax and other income from the “land grabbers” will be used to finance roads, Awassa and Dire Dawa universities (amongst others), the new railway services being built across the country, and decraese our trade imbalance, amongst other things! The Renaissance Dam will power your house with electricity (so that you can stop complaining about your powershortages!).
Not understanding the importance of income from these sectors, or not suggesting alternative means of income, is just childish and cannot be taken seriously!
Alem, let me tell you this. I voted for the Liberal Democrats in the last UK election. They joined a coalition government and broke all their promises. They lied to the voters straight up.
Yes, voting is a right that should be given to all. But that does not mean one like’s the outcome. Now who stops you from doing good and positive things to your fellow Ethiopians ?
That is the acid test. Talk is cheap, go out and help out a fellow citizen. Help a rural kid with his education, or volunteer some of your time to help someone who has a needy cause. One does need to vote to do that.
Spot on comment from unpopular dude. Sometimes reading a lot this articles you will think they writing about Singapore, Dubai, Switzerland etc.. who have high GDP/GNP and can do alternative ways.
Ethiopia regardless who is running the country needs development to eradicate poverty and give its people a chance to make something out of their life.
Can you imagine if all this reports are taken at face value. We stop and sink into more abject poverty and the mercy of nature & powerful nations. That neither wise nor prudent to follow that course of action.
I have no shame in saying we should wish the best for the country regardless of our views, politics, religion and ethnicity.
Wow. “Let me tell you this?” I don’t think I appreciate being talked to this way. You seem to have an interesting perception of yourself. Here you are with no information about me but already you have lined up chores for me!
Again you are confusing British politics with those in Ethiopia. Next time you write you have to tell me how many LibDems ended up in jail or in exile.
I hope you are not intimating that you and the rest of us should just focus on doing “positive things” and leave the governing and party politics to others? In which case you are advocating a rise of a special class where unquestioning obedience is the rule! That smacks of Stalinism to me.
It is unfortunate that with every comment you tend to invent topics that move further away from your original.
Unpopular dude quotes meles zenawi and wonders where all the money is going to come from? Well why not start by returning all the aid money (in billions) he stole from the ethiopian people? It´s common knowledge amongst ethiopians that their prime minister is a billionaire, isn´t it?
You are not particularly well informed are you? Aid money in Ethiopia cannot be stolen in their billions, my dear unintelligent friend: aid money has to be accounted for. It is often given for specific project, like constructing a road, and finally you have show receits and also the output ( e.g. a road). Western gov are not so stupid that they just give you billions, and say do whatever you want.
Furthermore, I do imagine that Meles stole some money, but that is pure speculation from my side (albeit a very probable one). How did it become common knowledge that they are in their billions? what evidence have you seen for that? just asking..
And finally, instead of engaging with the actual problem and making an intelligent counter-argument, you resort to cheap nonsenseical street talk. Yes, Meles savings are enough to fund all the development needs of the continent.
A few other points:
1. Everyone is rightfully complaining about fodd price inflation.
This is of course caused by the fact that supply does not meet demand. So in relation to this, the question is how much food was the e.g. gambella state producing before? And how much will it produce after the FDI?
As the foreign companies are not allowed to export more than 60% of their produce, it is most likely the situation that, in addition to foreign currency and tax revenues, Gambaella will because of the FDI supply considerably more food to the domestic market than previously. Thereby contributing to end food insecurity and reduce food prices.
2. There are better business conditions for Ethiopians than foreigners. If Ethiopian captal holders dont want to get into agriculture sector, then what is the alternative way of increasing food supply and reducing inflation?
Thank you Graham Peebles,
You wrote the fact, have you seen the area ?
This was what we try to address to our government and people, before we lost the right to use the land. Even now they try to sale more land, what can we do our country is not democrat like yours. If you became public figure or outspoken person they will put you in bars.
WISH YOU GOOD GRAHAM PEEBLES